Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pasta-Less Lasagna for Two


Well hello there!  I know, I've been totally MIA all summer, but I'm finally getting the itch to get back into the kitchen.  Our little electric grill out on the patio has gotten plenty of use this summer, but the kitchen is just too hot and windowless -- not exactly my idea of where I want to hang out during nice weather.  I think I was so blog-crazy last winter because the kitchen was so warm and cozy, and there was nothing better to do!

The final push that got me back into blogging was a super sweet message from a Facebook friend asking me when I was going to post a new recipe.  I asked her if she preferred something sweet or something savory, she voted savory, and I immediately knew what I wanted to make.  I've eaten too many burgers, hot dogs, and other BBQ fare this summer, so I opted for one of my old favorites -- pasta-less lasagna.  I've made this once before, for a big family dinner, and it was a huge hit.  But since it's just Todd and me for dinner tonight, I thought of a good solution to pare down the recipe -- a loaf pan!


As the name indicates, this lasagna contains no pasta.  Instead, thinly-sliced zucchini and eggplant create the layers.  Coincidentally, we were at a friend's BBQ last night, and they had a garden complete with eggplant and zucchini!  I left with a belly full of pulled pork (from their backyard smoker) and a bag full of veggies -- thanks Pollacks!

A mandoline would definitely come in handy here to slice the veggies into thin, even strips, but you can also use a super sharp, giant knife.  That's what I did because I was too lazy to dig out my mandoline.  And it makes me feel very Top Chefy to use my biggest, bad a$$ knife.


The next step is sort of fun, and really important -- sweat the veggies.  Zucchini and eggplant contain a ton of water, and if you don't get some of that water out, your lasagna will be a soupy mess.  Once the veggies are sliced, layer them in colanders and generously pour salt on both sides of each slice.  Place the colanders in the sink or on a rimmed tray or plate to catch the dripping water.  Let them sweat for at least 30 minutes, and then completely rinse off the salt and pat the veggies dry with paper towels.

*Dramatic reenactment of my face every morning on the subway*
My other layers included meaty tomato sauce (I doctored up a jar sauce with onion, garlic, and ground beef), ricotta cheese mixed with chopped spinach, a very thin layer of homemade pesto (complete with homegrown basil, thankyouverymuch) and fresh mozzarella. 

You can pretty much assemble it in any order you want, but always start with a layer of tomato sauce because anything else will stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.  And finish it off with a layer of mozzarella for a nice golden brown, cheesy crust.  My order:  sauce, eggplant (thicker pieces for the bottom layer), ricotta/spinach, sauce, zucchini, ricotta/spinach, sauce, zucchini, pesto, mozzarella.  Or something like that.  You definitely don't have to be precise with the layering -- just arrange them to cover as much of the pan as possible.  We're going for a rustic look.



Once it's baked through, stick it under the broiler for a few minutes to get the top layer of mozzarella all brown and delicious.  If you absolutely must have pasta with your lasagna, make a small batch to go on the side.  But trust me, you won't miss the pasta at all!

Pasta-Less Lasagna for Two*
(*Two very, very hungry adults -- we have enough leftovers for one of us to have it tomorrow.)

1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef, cooked
1 large jar store-bought tomato sauce
salt
pepper
cayenne pepper
(...or you can make your own sauce, however you normally do it)

16 oz part-skim ricotta
1 cup chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained
pinch of nutmeg

1 medium eggplant
2 medium zucchini
salt
fresh mozzarella (sorry, forgot to check exactly how much.. it was a fresh, small ball)
pesto (optional)

First, prep and sweat the eggplant and zucchini.  With either a mandoline or a large, sharp knife, carefully slice the zucchini lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices and the eggplant slightly thicker because it's the bottom layer.  Place the slices into a mesh colander set in the sink or on a rimmed baking sheet.  Generously salt the veggies on both sides.  I'm talking a ton of salt.  It's okay, you're washing it off later. In just a few minutes, you will literally see beads of "sweat" coming off the veggies.  Let them sit and sweat for at least 30 minutes... work on the other steps during this time.

Second, while the veggies are sweating like a hooker in church, make the sauce.  You can use your own recipe, but here's how I make mine.  I basically take a very plain, low-sugar jarred sauce and doctor it up.  Saute the onion and garlic in a hot saute pan, and then pour it into a medium-sized deep pot.  Next, cook the ground beef in the same hot pan and then add it to the onion, garlic.  Finally, pour in the jarred sauce, stir and cook on medium-low heat until it's cooked through.  Add the salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.  Set aside.

Third, in a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, spinach and pinch of nutmeg.  Set aside.

Finally, assembly time!  I used a 10 inch x 5 inch loaf pan.  Spray all sides with cooking spray.  As I said above, you can really layer this however you want, but always start with a layer of tomato sauce because anything else will stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.  And end with mozzarella because it browns so nicely at the very end.  My order: sauce, eggplant (thicker pieces for the bottom layer), ricotta/spinach, sauce, zucchini, ricotta/spinach, sauce, zucchini, pesto, mozzarella. Or something like that.

Bake for 40 minutes in a 400 degree oven.  Broil it on high for a few minutes to get the top cheese layer all brown and pretty.  Just watch the oven closely until it's a good color. Then, very important, let it rest and cool for at least 15 minutes.  I was antsy and Todd was hungry, so we dug in too fast and it was sort of messy looking.  But it was delicious!

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting this, Jessica! Your blog is fabulous, and I love reading it. Hope all is well in NYC! :)

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  2. making this for dinner tonight! have all the things in my fridge and wasn't sure what to do with them all! thanks for the inspiration & thanks for posting, as always i love your blog :)
    -meg
    @ http://clutzycooking.blogspot.com

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